April: springing up

Yes - it is here: hard to believe, but spring has arrived. 

It is time to try to fight your way to the back of the shed to find the garden tools and to start the mower. I think that may be why Bank Holiday Monday was invented, but I may be wrong.

There is just enough time on a long weekend to work your way through the cardboard boxes from Christmas in the shed and the impossibly interlocking tools, just enough time to drag the mower out and give the starter cord a really good tug. Just enough time, in fact, to really put your back out. 

You then have all of Monday to lie on the floor groaning and being stepped over by others as you attempt to swallow dangerously high levels of painkillers, dribbling most of it onto the floor. Struggling to hold on to your dignity, you think "Is this what it will be like?". Or am I just talking about my own experience here?

The trick of course is not attempt to get your mower to do things it was never intended to do - like start cold with a blocked fuel pipe and threadbare cables. Put it in for a service or make time to raise it up onto a workbench in order to give it a good going through. 

Other options include buying electric mowers or even self-propelled ones, though I am not a fan of the latter. They creep around with a sinister hum, looking for offensively tall blades of grass. As far as I am concerned, they'd be acceptable only if they were to bring out the drinks with nibbles and call you "Sir". If all else fails, buy some sheep.

So - if the thought of tackling dysfunctional, motorised garden technology fills you with fear and loathing, there are other more attainable goals to focus on this month:

  • Cut back any remaining Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) to bring out the best of their colour next winter.
  • Cotinus (smoke tree) and Sambucus (elder) can also be cut back hard to ensure the best colours for the summer and the autumn. You can leave a framework of stems if screening is needed.
  • Container-grown trees and shrubs can be planted now, but it is too late for bare-root or root balled plants. Mulching the newly planted trees and shrubs with compost, bark chippings or anything to keep the weeds off and the moisture in, will reduce the amount of watering required during their first season.
  • Variegated plants can often begin to revert back to a single colour. By pruning out the single coloured stems, the variegation will remain. Eleagnus and Weigelia often do this.
  • Hardy annuals such as sweet peas sown directly into the ground are worth the risk of frost damage as you will get an early summer show if they succeed. 
  • Weed and feed your lawn, being very careful to apply the correct dose in the correct conditions.
  • Avoid replacing roses in their same position as they will be affected by the toxic waste of the previous roses.
  • With the warmth come the pests: many, such as whitefly, can be simply squeezed or pulled off at this time of year but prepare for the inevitable slugs and snails.
  • Cometh the sun, cometh the weeds: on a sparse bed, matting and bark chippings are highly visible ways of weed control, but as a border fills out, shade from the plants and hoeing are equally effective.
  • Watch out for brackets of tree fungus that can burst out on trees at this time of year. Bracket fungus spreads easily and is pretty destructive. It will need the attention of an expert.
  • If you want to increase the chance of hedgehogs making their way through the garden, cut out a hole at the base of your fence so they can roam looking for food and company.

Above all, don't be afraid to tackle jobs and to try out new ideas in your outdoor space. Few of us will have show gardens, so don't let it become a chore: relax and enjoy it. 

As the saying goes - the bugs don't bite: only the mower does sometimes.


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